Advantage Al Hilal in ACL 2019 final after Carrillo breaks down stubborn Urawa

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Al Hilal have one hand on the AFC Champions League 2019 title after beating Urawa Red Diamonds 1-0 in the first leg of the final at the King Saud University Stadium on Saturday.

Despite facing some stern resistance from the visitors, the Saudi Arabian giants eventually found the breakthrough as Andre Carrillo’s 60th-minute effort proved enough for the win.

AFC Champions League Final 1st Leg: Al-Hilal 1-0 Urawa Reds (Andre Carrillo 60′)

Both teams will now meet again after the upcoming international break in Japan on November 24, where Al Hilal are on course to bring the trophy back to West Asia after an eight-year drought and also claim their first title since 2000 – unless Urawa can make the most of home advantage to stage a fightback at Saitama Stadium 2002.

Considering it was always going to be a tricky tie in Riyadh against the competition’s leading scorers, it was no real surprise that the visitors opted for a conservative approach and allowed their opponents to have the dominant share of possession.

Following a tentative start, Al Hilal started to find their rhythm and could have easily broke the deadlock in the 29th minute.

A right-wing cross from Salem Al-Dawsari was dummied by Yasser Al-Shahrani into the path of Sebastian Giovinco and the Italian calmly placed his shot past the onrushing Haruki Fukushima, but Takuya Aoki somehow raced back in time to make an outstanding goal-line clearance.

Three minutes after the half-hour mark, it was Fukushima’s turn to come to Urawa’s rescue when he produced a stunning fingertip save to tip a glancing header by Carrillo from a Salman Al-Faraj corner wide.

Fukushima, who was only in goal due to a suspension to first-choice goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, produced another vital intervention four minutes later; Carrillo forcing his way free down the right and cutting the ball back to Giovinco only for the Japanese custodian to make a fine close-range stop.

But, right on the hour mark, the hosts were not to be denied and this time Fukushima did not cover himself in glory.

A neat pass by Giovinco released Mohammed Al-Breik down the right and he whipped in a cross into the box that Fukushima came out to gather but then found himself in no man’s land, paving the way for a determined Carrillo to get in ahead of Takuya Iwanami and head into the unguarded goal.

Al Hilal looked to have doubled their tally in the 72nd minute, after Carrillo latched onto Bafetimbi Gomis’ defence-splitting pass to find himself one-on-one with Fukushima and unselfishly squared the ball to leave Al-Dawsari with a simple tap-in.

However, the strike was ruled out for offside although replays showed it was the incorrect decision.

The onus was now on Urawa to force the draw and at least grab an away goal to bring back to Japan but, while Kenyu Sugimoto was thrown on to bolster their attacking options, they were barely able to trouble their opponents.

While it may not the commanding lead they would have been hoping to take away from the first leg, Al Hilal – with a 1-0 advantage on the back of an excellent display – can be optimistic in their prospects of avenging their loss to Urawa in 2017 and being crowned champions of Asia for the first time in almost two decades.

AL HILAL: Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Mohammed Al-Breik, Jang Hyun-soo, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Abdullah Otayf (Mohamed Kanno 89’), Salman Al-Faraj, Andre Carrillo, Sebastian Giovinco (Nawaf Al-Abed 87’), Salem Al-Dawsari, Bafetimbi Gomis.

URAWA RED DIAMONDS: Haruki Fukushima, Takuya Iwanami, Daisuke Suzuki, Tomoaki Makino, Daiki Hashioka, Ewerton, Takuya Aoki, Takahiro Sekine (Tomoya Ugajin 85’), Kazuki Nagasawa (Kenyu Sugimoto 75’), Fabricio, Shinzo Koroki.